Facilitating Spaces of Urban Agroecology: A Learning Framework for Community-University Partnerships

Jennifer A. Nicklay, K. Valentine Cadieux, Mary A. Rogers, Nicolas A. Jelinski, Kat LaBine, Gaston E. Small

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

At the local scale in Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP), MN, urban farms, community gardens, and home gardens support diverse individual and community goals, including food access and sovereignty, recreation and outdoor activity, youth education, and racial, economic, and environmental justice. Collaborations between urban growers, policymakers, scholars, and communities that leverage urban farms and gardens as sites of ecological, social, and political transformation represent spaces of urban agroecology. Participatory research can play a vital role in urban agroecology by facilitating integration of science, movement, and practice, but frameworks to accomplish this are still emerging. This paper, therefore, proposes a “learning framework” for urban agroecology research that has emerged from our community-university partnership. We—a group of growers, community partners, and researchers—have worked with each other for 5 years through multiple projects that broadly focused on the socio-ecological drivers and impacts of urban farms and gardens in MSP. In fall 2019, we conducted our first formal evaluation of the participatory processes implemented in our current project with the objectives to (1) identify processes that facilitated or were barriers to authentic collaboration and (2) understand the role of relationships in the participatory processes. Qualitative surveys and interviews were developed and conducted with researchers, partners, and students. Analysis revealed that urban agroecology research provided a space for shared learning, which was facilitated through co-creation of research, embodied processes, and relationships with people, cohorts, and place. As part of our partnership agreements, we as researchers wrote this article—in close consultation with partners—to share this framework in the hopes that it will serve as a model for other research collaborations working within complex urban agroecological systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number143
JournalFrontiers in Sustainable Food Systems
Volume4
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 30 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Urban agriculture and agroecology are a community-led endeavor and we?the co-authors of this paper?affirm the dedication, commitment, and vital contributions of our partners, both current and past. We are grateful for the growers, organizers, and community members who continue to share their knowledge and experiences with us and welcome us into their communities and lives. We also thank our students, whose curiosity, kindness, and insight inspire us, and who have committed hours to the interconnected work of science and community building: Dania, Karl, Luna, Madison, Matt, Naomy, Tanner, Tulsi, Sam, and Yashira. The co-authors also acknowledge that our institutions?the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, Hamline University, and the University of St. Thomas?stand on Min? S?ta Makh??he?which is the unceded traditional, ancestral, and contemporary land of Indigenous nations?specifically Dakh?ta Oy?te (Lee and Ahtone, 2020). The land was ceded in the Treaties of 1837 and 1851, but when the U.S. later abrogated those treaties, the land was not returned to the Dakh?ta, as is legally required when treaties are revoked (Case, 2018). We also acknowledge that the University of Minnesota received financial support in 1856 from William Aiken Jr., who enslaved more than 700 people; this money was gained through forced labor (Lehman, 2019). We offer these acknowledgments as one way to recognize relationships between the University, land, and communities, and more importantly, as our commitment to ongoing actions within and outside our research that support reconciliation and repair. Funding. This article included discussion of four projects that have been conducted within our urban agroecology research program. Initial relationship building and the pilot study in 2016 were funded by the University of Minnesota through the Serendipity Grant and Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Grant (award number 15FCUR-1YR50DBK). The current on-farm ecosystem service project was funded by a USDA North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Grant (award number 00067679) and supported in part by UMN-MAES funding to NJ. The complementary off-farm research was supported by a National Science Foundation CAREER award (award number 1651361) to GS. JN has been funded by several fellowships through the University of Minnesota, including the Diversity of Views and Experiences Fellowship; the College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences Fellowship; the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change Summer Fellowship; and the MnDRIVE Humans in the Data Summer Fellowship.

Funding Information:
This article included discussion of four projects that have been conducted within our urban agroecology research program. Initial relationship building and the pilot study in 2016 were funded by the University of Minnesota through the Serendipity Grant and Healthy Foods, Healthy Lives Grant (award number 15FCUR-1YR50DBK). The current on-farm ecosystem service project was funded by a USDA North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Grant (award number 00067679) and supported in part by UMN-MAES funding to NJ. The complementary off-farm research was supported by a National Science Foundation CAREER award (award number 1651361) to GS. JN has been funded by several fellowships through the University of Minnesota, including the Diversity of Views and Experiences Fellowship; the College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences Fellowship; the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change Summer Fellowship; and the MnDRIVE Humans in the Data Summer Fellowship.

Funding Information:
Despite Jennifer’s concerns, most partners described close relationships with Jennifer, Kat, and Nic. For example, Amanda, the farmer at Mazahua Center, reflected that “Their positive and fun energy is always so amazing to be around,” and Caitlin shared that their support “helped me open up to feeling confident about grant writing and asking for funding for a big project!” However, partners also expressed that they generally didn’t know the other researchers or partners (Figure 5A). Several partners noted that the existing communication strategies were mediated by the researchers, but they wanted a space or more regular meetings to communicate, build relationships, and share experiences with other growers and to connect with researchers. Other than the yearly “All Hands” meeting, there were no formal opportunities for partners to interact with each other within the project, and other researchers were often only able to attend occasional community events. For example, Mary, a horticultural researcher, noted that she has “multiple responsibilities in the summer months (teaching, research, administrative) and it is very difficult to be regularly present at the research sites. I try to come at least once.” The network analysis demonstrates that the All-Hands meeting and community event participation were not enough to

Publisher Copyright:
© Copyright © 2020 Nicklay, Cadieux, Rogers, Jelinski, LaBine and Small.

Keywords

  • community gardens
  • community-engaged learning
  • food justice
  • participatory research
  • sustainable agriculture
  • urban agriculture
  • urban farms

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Facilitating Spaces of Urban Agroecology: A Learning Framework for Community-University Partnerships'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this